Naomi Osaka seized the Australian Open title and the number one ranking on Saturday after defeating Petra Kvitova 7-6 (7-2), 5-7, 6-4 in a drama-filled battle in which she failed to convert three championship points in the second set. It makes the 21-year-old Japanese fourth seed the first woman to win back-to-back grand slam titles since Serena Williams in 2015, after Osaka beat Williams in the final of last year's US Open. She is also the first Asian woman to hold the number one ranking, which she will take over from Romania's Simona Halep on Monday. Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, had been playing in her first grand slam final since her racquet hand was severely injured in a 2016 knife attack at her home. ‘Huge congrats to you Petra, I've always wanted to play you and you've been through so much,’ Osaka said as she accepted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. ‘You're really amazing and I'm really honoured to have played you in the final of a grand slam,’ she added. Kvitova congratulated Osaka, saying it was a ‘great final’ and ‘you really played well.’ She also addressed her team, saying ‘thank you for sticking with me even [when] we didn't know if I'd be able to hold a racquet again. ‘You were there every single day, supporting me and staying positive for me, which I really needed. It probably wasn't easy so thank you so much.’ After an uncertain start by Osaka, the Japanese settled into her rhythm and took the first set tiebreak, as the Czech eighth seed struggled to deal with the depth and spin of her returns. Osaka has won the last 59 matches in which she has won the first set, a record that began in 2016. Kvitova broke Osaka early in the second set to lead 2-0, but the Japanese broke straight back with the help of the netcord and a double fault from the eighth seed. As Kvitova served to stay in the match at 5-3, Osaka shot ahead 0-40, creating three championship points, all of which the cool-headed Kvitova saved before holding and then breaking back twice to take the second set as Osaka's game crumbled and she double faulted on set point. The Japanese was in tears as she left the court for a bathroom break but she recovered her poise in the deciding set, breaking early to lead 2-1. From then on she never looked back, creating three championship points as she served at 5-4, and taking the second on a service winner. Talking to reporters about how she calmed herself after her second set breakdown, she said, ‘I just thought to myself that this is my second time playing a final. I can't really act entitled. ‘To be playing against one of the best players in the world, to lose a set, suddenly think that I'm so much better than her that that isn't a possibility.’ She also revealed that she had been listening to the song ‘Win’ by Jay Rock before all of her matches at the tournament. ‘I was listening to that because my dad was obnoxiously blasting it during the US Open. I just thought maybe I should keep carrying on the trend. It worked, so...’ she said.
Chinese authorities are holding an Australian writer, who used to be a Chinese citizen, on suspicion of endangering state security, China said yesterday, and his lawyer said he was suspected of espionage. Australian officials said Yang Hengjun was detained shortly after he flew in to the southern city of Guangzhou from New York last week, but it did not believe his detention was the result of rising tension between China and the West. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Australia was officially notified after Yang was placed under “coercive measures” — a euphemism for detention —in Beijing. “The Australian citizen Yang Jun, due to being suspected of engaging in criminal acts that endangered China’s national security, was recently placed under coercive measures and is being investigated by the Beijing city State Security Bureau,” Hua told reporters. Yang’s rights and interests were being protected in accordance with the law, she told a regular news briefing in Beijing, using a slightly different name for him. Australian Defence Minister Christopher Pyne, arrived on in Beijing yesterday for scheduled talks, said Australia would normally expect to be told of such a case within three days under existing diplomatic conventions. Yang went missing last Friday and Australia was not told until four days later. Pyne said the late notification was disappointing and he would be raising it in his talks with Chinese officials. “He’s being held in residential surveillance,” Pyne told reporters. The Australian government was first alerted that Yang had gone missing after friends said he had been out of contact for several days. Yang’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told Reuters that his client was suspected of “espionage”, and was being held under “residential surveillance at a designated location”. The special detention measure allows authorities to interrogate suspects for six months without necessarily granting access to legal representation. Rights groups say that the lack of oversight raises concern about abuse by interrogators. Mo said he had been retained by Yang’s wife but because the case involved state security, he would need approval from the authorities before he would be able to meet Yang. Tensions have risen in recent weeks between China and some Western countries after two Canadians, a diplomat on unpaid leave and a consultant, were arrested in China on suspicion of endangering state security. Those arrests were widely seen in the West as retaliation by China for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a senior Huawei Technologies executive, on Dec 1 at the request of the United States for allegedly violating US sanctions. Australia joined international condemnation of the arrest of the two Canadians, but Yang has long been in the sights of Chinese authorities. He has criticised what he described as Chinese interference in Australia. Feng Chongyi, an academic at the University of Technology in Sydney, said he asked Yang not to go to China because of the tension. “I didn’t think it would be safe for him because of the situation with Huawei but he believed that he would be fine as he had been there so many times,” Feng said. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said staff from Australia’s embassy met Chinese officials and, while details were limited, she said there was no evidence Yang’s case was linked to Australia’s criticism of the detention of the Canadians. “I’d be concerned if there was an indication of that,” Payne told reporters in Sydney. “We are calling on the Chinese authorities to ensure this matter is dealt with transparently and fairly.” Yang was also reported missing for several days while in China in 2011. Two sources familiar with the details said he had been detained but agreed to say he had been unwell. However, Yang is not seen as a radical dissident. He became famous in the 2000s for his political essays, which earned him the nickname “democracy peddler”. In recent years, he had published little commentary, instead writing more fiction, including a trilogy of spy novels. Deng Yuwen, a Beijing-based political analyst who knows Yang, told Reuters that he did not know the reason for Yang’s detention but that his WeChat accounts had been deleted. “He has basically not publicly released any political essays in recent years,” Deng said. Chinese President Xi Jinping has presided over a crackdown on dissent since coming to power in 2012, with hundreds of rights lawyers and activists detained. Dozens have been jailed. Relations between Australia and its largest trading partner have been strained in recent years and Pyne’s trip was arranged in a bid to repair ties damaged by Australian accusations in 2017 that China was meddling in its affairs. Analysts said Yang’s arrest would add to pressure on Australia to take a stand, and it would prolong tension. “Australia can’t hide from this. It will need to respectfully protect its citizens,” said Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University. “This detention marks the new normal in the bilateral tension, which will be constant low-level tension.”
Australia is investigating the whereabouts of a Chinese-Australian man, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said yesterday, after a newspaper report raised fears that the dissident former diplomat has been detained in China. The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported that friends feared Yang Hengjun, an author and former Chinese diplomat who is now an Australian citizen, had been detained because he had not been reachable for several days. His disappearance comes at a time of high tension between China and some parts of the West after two Canadians, a diplomat on unpaid leave and a consultant, were arrested in China on suspicion of endangering state security. Those arrests were widely seen in the West as retaliation by Beijing for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a senior Huawei Technologies executive, in Canada on December 1. She is accused of violating US sanctions. Two friends contacted by Reuters said they had reported Yang as missing to DFAT. They said he had been missing since he flew from New York to Guangzhou in southern China on Friday. One of those friends, Feng Chongyi, an academic at the University of Technology in Sydney, said Yang had been scheduled to fly on to Shanghai but never arrived. “I believe he is in custody of the Ministry of State Security in Beijing,” Feng said. China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked about Yang’s disappearance, told a regular briefing that she had “no understanding” of the situation. China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond immediately to requests for comment. A DFAT spokeswoman confirmed the department was investigating but did not identify Yang by name. “The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is seeking information about an Australian citizen who has been reported missing in China,” the spokeswoman said. A source familiar with the investigation said Australia made contact with Chinese officials overnight to ask about Yang’s whereabouts. Australia joined international condemnation of the arrest of the two Canadians but Yang has long been in the sights of Chinese authorities. He has criticised what he described as Chinese interference in Australia. Chinese President Xi Jinping has presided over a sweeping crackdown on dissent since coming to power in 2012, with hundreds of rights lawyers and activists detained. Dozens have been jailed.
Six people have been charged after Australian authorities uncovered a multi-million-dollar crime syndicate stealing baby formula and vitamins from major retailers across Sydney for shipment to China, police said Monday. Four members of one family and two other men have been arrested and charged over the ‘organised criminal group’ that New South Wales Police believe has operated for several years. ‘We're thinking this is quite an expansive criminal group that was exploiting an overseas market at the disadvantage of the Australian public,’ NSW Police Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty told reporters in Sydney. Doherty said investigators were still probing where the products were being sold, but alleged that so far, ‘thousands of shipments of baby formula were sent to China’. Premium baby milk formula, vitamins and honey from Australia are highly sought after in China, where consumers are fearful of lax food safety standards that have resulted in deaths and health scares. The investigation kicked off in February last year after police received reports of thefts from Sydney retailers. Investigators said they searched two Sydney homes in August and seized 4,000 tins of baby formula, ‘large quantities’ of vitamins, Manuka honey as well as more than Aus$215,000 (US$154,000) in cash. The latest arrest was of a 31-year-old man on Saturday at Sydney Airport after he arrived on a flight from China. ‘It's been a meticulous investigation... and we anticipate further arrests will happen,’ Doherty said, adding that police estimated around Aus$1 million worth of powdered milk was stolen in just the past 12 months. ‘Police will continue to pursue these people, because not only are they making a quick dollar out of greed and disadvantaging mums and dads of Australia, they are literally taking baby formula out of the mouths of babes.’ There is also a growing grey market in Australia where purchasing agents known as ‘daigou’ help Chinese customers secure products in Australia by buying them from local shops and shipping them to China, raking in a tidy profit in the process. Analysts estimate that there there are thousands of daigou who can make an average of Aus$100,000 each year by re-selling the products. Local media estimated that a tin of milk powder sold for Aus$30 in Australia could be sold for Aus$80 in China. The demand, particularly for baby formula, has been so high in Australia that some supermarket giants have imposed limits on purchases or moved the milk behind the counter.
Hundreds of Australians dressed in black gathered in Melbourne on the steps of Victorian state parliament late yesterday for a silent vigil in memory of murdered Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe. The 21-year-old was killed on the way home from a comedy show in Melbourne just after midnight Tuesday. Her body was found in bushes near a tram stop by passers-by several hours later on Wednesday morning. “It’s a sad reason that we are here today,” one man attending the vigil told Channel Seven TV news. “To sit and stand in anger for what has happened.” A woman holding back tears at the event said: “It’s just so sad, she seemed like such a lovely girl.” Attendees will later fill the 86 tram, which Maasarwe was believed to have ridden on her way home, with red roses that were reportedly her favourite flowers. Maasarwe’s father Saeed, visited the crime scene yesterday, where dozens of flowers and messages from the public have been left nearby in support. “I feel very very sad from one side, but from another side, when I get this support and this help – from the people, from the community, from the police – it makes the suffering to feel a little more better,” he told reporters. “This is the last place my daughter... was here,” he added, breaking down in tears. “I want to be with her for more time, but someone decided I cannot be.” Maasarwe was killed in a late-night attack while she was speaking on the phone with her sister. Police, who have described the attack as “horrific”. Campaigners have called for an end to the “epidemic of violence against women” in the city. Some of the vigil organisers were the ones who had arranged a similar tribute for Eurydice Dixon, a 22-year-old local comedian who was killed in a Melbourne park last year as she was going home. “We’re as angry as we were last time,” organiser Jessamy Gleeson told Melbourne’s Herald Sun, adding more needed to be done to keep women safe. “We shouldn’t have these one-off vigils. There needs to be continued engagement and conversation about violence against women.” Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to Twitter yesterday, calling the crime “an incredibly shocking, despicable and tragic attack”. “My heart goes out to Aiia’s family and friends and everyone whose life she touched.”
As many as a million fish are believed to have died along the banks of a major river system in drought-battered eastern Australia, and the authorities warned yesterday of more deaths to come. The banks of the Murray-Darling Rivers are thick with rotten fish, with officials putting the number of dead at hundreds of thousands and saying the toll is likely closer to 1mn. Further high temperatures forecast for this week could make the situation worse, the New South Wales government has warned. Low water conditions and the heat may also have encouraged an algae bloom that starves the fish of oxygen and produce toxins. “We do expect to see more fish kills across parts of the far west and Northern Tablelands this week,” said state minister Niall Blair. The deaths have become a national issue, sparking angry allegations about the cause and who is responsible. “It’s a devastating ecological event,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday, pointing to apocalyptic scenes. “The sheer visual image of this is just terribly upsetting,” he said. Morrison’s government has blamed the fish deaths on drought, and defended policies which some locals say has caused the systemic depletion and pollution of the river system. “There’s a drought and this is one of the consequences of drought. There are many, and my focus on drought has not shifted one inch,” Morrison said. But for years scientists have been warning of people extracting vast amounts of water without check for irrigation or other uses, undercutting billions of dollars of investment. “Dead fish and dying rivers are not because of the drought, it’s because we are extracting too much water from our river,” said John Williams, an expert in water economics at the Australian National University. Opposition leader Bill Shorten called on the government to set up an “emergency task force” to address the issue. “You can’t ignore a million dead fish, that’s a shocking development,” said Shorten. Morrison insisted the management plan for the Murray-Darling Basin was bipartisan, adding that his government was only following on the policies of the opposition Labor government. “I’m concerned today that some might want to play politics with that,” he said. “There were reports done by scientists under Labor’s contribution to that plan back in 2012 and the plan has been operating in accordance with that advice.” Scientists are calling for politicians to be held to account. “Billions have been spent on upgrading irrigation infrastructure,” said Quentin Grafton, also of the Australian National University, “but with no public benefit.”
The search for a German hiker missing in the Australian wilderness for almost two weeks has been called off, police announced Sunday. Monika Billen, 62, has not been seen since leaving her hotel in Alice Springs to go buswalking on New Years Day. She was not reported missing until January 8, and despite an intense air and land search has not been found. Northern Territory police said they had exhausted all possibilities after five days of searching using helicopters, drones, vehicles, motorbikes and horses. Temperatures in central Australia reached 43.5 degrees Celsius and were consistently over 40 degrees for much of the last fortnight. "In the past five days NT police have covered vast tracks of land via aerial and land searches," Superintendent Pauline Vicary said in a statement. "Unfortunately, despite our efforts no further evidence has been found to indicate Monika is still out there." Billen failed to check out of her hotel on January 5 and missed a scheduled flight to Darwin. Despite vanishing without trace, police do not believe her disappearance is suspicious.
Police in Australia are investigating suspicious packages sent to a wide range of embassies and consulates yesterday, which officials said included the US and British missions in Melbourne, but there were no reports of harm to staff. Domestic media reported more than a dozen foreign offices received the packages and that some staff said they contained asbestos, a material used in building that can cause cancers and other health problems. There were no details of any possible motive and some of the targeted sites that Reuters reporters visited were open later yesterday afternoon. “The packages are being examined by attending emergency services,” the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said in a short statement. It said the packages were sent to consulates in Melbourne and embassies in Canberra but did not provide a total number of affected sites or identify any of them. “The circumstances surrounding the incidents are being investigated,” the AFP statement said. Officials at the US and British consulates in Melbourne separately confirmed suspicious packages had been received. “We handled the package according to our standard procedures and in close co-ordination with local authorities ... who are investigating the incident,” a spokesman for the US Consulate said. A New Zealand official told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the consulate received an envelope with small plastic bags that appeared to contain concrete and asbestos, with “asbestos” written on one of the bags. The Age newspaper reported that one firefighter was seen outside the South Korean consulate carrying a large plastic bag with the word “asbestos” written on it.
Two passenger trains collided yesterday during the morning rush hour in South Africa’s capital city Pretoria, killing three people and injuring hundreds, emergency services said. Two critically injured people were airlifted from the scene of the crash in Mountain View, northern Pretoria, spokesman Charles Mabaso told AFP. Another 300 people were hurt, with 82 sustaining serious injuries. “The current fatalities stand at three, but it still might rise,” said Mabaso. When paramedics arrived on the scene, they found carriages from both trains tilting half off the track. “Numerous passengers were found either in the trains or found walking around on the scene,” Russel Meiring, a spokesman for the ER24 emergency services, said in a statement. Rail accidents are common in South Africa. A year ago, in one of the country’s worst rail disasters, a passenger train travelling from the southern city of Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg smashed into a lorry at a level crossing near Kroonstad in the central Free State province and burst into flames, killing 19 people and wounding 254. In 2016-17, 495 people were killed on the country’s railways according to the Railway Safety Regulator — an increase of 8% on the previous year.
Wildfires burned in parts of Australia’s densely-populated southeast yesterday, although weather officials expected falling temperatures to bring relief for Sydney by early afternoon. One fire in eastern Victoria, the second most populous state, prompted fire authorities to issue a watch and act warning for residents in 14 different towns. The fire near Rosedale, about 200km (124 miles) east of Melbourne, had burnt more than 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) and sudden wind changes on Friday created risky conditions for roughly 40 firefighters, an emergency official said. “They found themselves in a very serious situation and they were shaken,” Andrew Crisp, the state’s emergency management commissioner, told reporters yesterday. The origin of the Rosedale fire and another in Victoria were being treated as suspicious, with police and fire authorities investigating their cause, he added. In the southern island state of Tasmania, a bushfire had burnt through 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of southwestern wilderness by yesterday, fire officials said. Both Victoria and Tasmania had sweltered through above average temperatures on Friday, with Melbourne recording a near-record 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 F) and Hobart reaching 40C (104F). But both states will see far cooler temperatures over the weekend, following a rapid cool change on Friday, weather officials said. “At 4pm, (Melbourne) was at 42 degrees, by 4.20pm it was down to 26 degrees, and then continued to drop after that,” Keris Arndt, a meteorologist with the weather bureau, said. Yet by yesterday morning the cooling temperatures had not reached parts of Sydney, Australia’s most populous city, where the mercury reached almost 38C (100.4F) by midday. A Bureau of Meteorology forecaster told Reuters the weather pattern that brought temperature drops to Melbourne and Tasmania was expected to reach Sydney by afternoon.
Australia’s largest city Sydney put on its biggest-ever fireworks display in a spectacular welcome to the New Year, kicking off a wave of celebrations for billions around the world. A record amount of pyrotechnics as well as new fireworks effects and colours lit up the city’s skyline for 12 minutes and dazzled the more than 1.5mn spectators who packed the harbour front and parks. An earlier thunderstorm did not dampen the spirits of revellers who camped out at vantage points, some since the morning. To mark International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019, the harbour also hosted a ceremony celebrating Aboriginal heritage that included animations projected onto the bridge’s pylons. In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, more than 500 couples tied the knot in a free mass wedding organised by the government, with fireworks shows cancelled out of respect for tsunami victims. New Year’s Eve celebrations were also called off in nearby Banten province, where the disaster struck on December 22 killing more than 400 people. In Japan, locals flocked to temples to ring in 2019, as US boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather came out of retirement to beat Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa in a multi-million-dollar “exhibition” bout outside Tokyo. “It was all about entertainment. We had fun,” Mayweather said in the ring after the event, which pitted him against an opponent less than half his age. “I’m still retired... I did this just to entertain the fans in Japan,” added the 41-year-old. The party atmosphere is set to sweep across major cities in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas as the clock ticks past midnight. A strong police presence has become a key element of the festivities, to protect crowds that could be targeted in terror and vehicle attacks. Hong Kong: Glittering fireworks will be sent skyward from five barges floating in Victoria Harbour in a 10-minute display watched by 300,000 people on the shore. Moscow: Concerts and light shows will be held across the city’s parks and more than 1,000 ice rinks have been opened for merrymakers. Paris: A fireworks display and sound and light show under the theme “fraternity” is set to go ahead on the Champs-Elysees despite plans for further “yellow vest” anti-government protests at the famed avenue. Berlin: Music lovers will party at a concert at the Brandenburg Gate, but a popular German tradition of setting off fireworks to mark the occasion has been banned in some other cities over safety concerns. London: Britain’s capital will usher in the New Year by celebrating its relationship with Europe amid turmoil over the Brexit referendum vote to leave the EU, with the fireworks display at the London Eye to feature music from the continent’s artists. Edinburgh: The Scottish capital’s traditional Hogmanay celebrations will also take on a pro-European theme ahead of the year in which Britain is due to exit the union. As the world parties, many will also look forward to 2019 and wonder whether the turmoil witnessed during the previous year will spill over into the next. The political wrangling in Westminster over Brexit was one of the key stories of this year, with a resolution yet to be reached ahead of the scheduled March 29 departure. US President Donald Trump dominated headlines in 2018 as he ramped up his trade war with China, quit the Iran nuclear deal, moved the American embassy to Jerusalem and met his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un in Singapore for a historic summit. North Korea’s commitment to denuclearisation will remain a major political and security issue into next year, as will Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s reassertion of control after Trump’s shock military withdrawal announcement. The war in Yemen, which started in 2014 and has already killed about 10,000 people and left some 20 million at risk of starvation, could take a crucial turn after a ceasefire went into effect in mid-December. Numerous countries go to the polls in 2019, with key elections in India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, South Africa, Argentina and Australia. Major sporting events on the calendar include the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the cricket one-day international World Cup in England and the athletics World Championships in Qatar.
China will continue market reforms and open its doors to the world in the face of a challenging geopolitical landscape, President Xi Jinping pledged yesterday in a New Year speech. Xi said that in 2018 – 40 years since the transformation led by Deng Xiaoping – the country had enacted “systematic, holistic and reconstructive reforms of the party and state institutions”. “The pace of our reform will not stagnate, and the open door will only grow bigger and bigger,” he said in a speech broadcast by the state-run CCTV. China recently marked the anniversary of the momentous policy shift agreed at a Communist Party gathering on December 18, 1978 under late paramount leader Deng, who is considered the architect of the country’s opening up to the world. Xi said yesterday that China had welcomed many “new and old friends” to the country, hosting several international forums this year. “My colleagues and I visited five continents... had extensive exchanges with leaders of various countries, consolidated friendship, enhanced trust, and expanded our circle of friends,” he said. Touching on geopolitics, Xi said the world is in an unprecedented situation under the toughest conditions in a century. “No matter how the international situation changes, China’s confidence and determination to safeguard national sovereignty and security will not change,” he said. “China’s sincerity and goodwill to maintain world peace and promote common development will not change.” China has been locked in a bruising trade war with the United States and is also facing a slowing domestic economy. Washington and Beijing have imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on more than $300bn worth of goods, and the trade conflict has spooked markets worldwide. But both countries on December 1 agreed to a 90-day truce after Xi met with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina. The year 2019 will also see China celebrating 70 years since its founding as a nation. “Seventy years of challenges, 70 years of wind and rain,” Xi said. “Along the way, the Chinese people have become self-reliant and hard-working, creating a Chinese miracle that has attracted worldwide attention.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has sent a “conciliatory message” to US President Donald Trump amid stalled nuclear negotiations, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported yesterday. Kim’s “letter-like” message to Trump was delivered on Friday through an unspecified channel, the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed diplomatic source. The report did not include details about the message but said it related to US-North Korea talks, and was conciliatory in tone. On Sunday, the office of South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said Kim had sent a letter to his counterpart in Seoul saying he wants to hold more inter-Korean summits next year to achieve denuclearisation of the peninsula. Neither the US State Department nor the US embassy in Seoul had an immediate comment about the report of Kim’s message to Trump when contacted by Reuters. Moon’s office could not confirm the Chosun Ilbo report. “There is a dialogue channel between North Korea and the United States through which they exchange active communication, but I cannot know whether it took the form of letter or something else,” Moon’s spokesman told a news briefing yesterday. At a summit with Trump in Singapore in June, Kim vowed to work towards denuclearisation. However, both sides have struggled to make progress on this matter. They are also yet to reschedule a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol after an abrupt cancellation in November. Pyongyang’s state media has credited Trump for his willingness to continue dialogue but has also slammed the US State Department for tightening sanctions. The stalled negotiations have had an impact on inter-Korean ties, with Kim failing to visit Seoul this year as agreed to at an inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in September. The Chosun Ilbo report said Kim wrote in the letter to Moon that he would come to the South “in the near future” after giving a New Year address. Kim’s New Year address provides a rare public appearance for the young leader and is closely watched by neighbouring countries as it is seen setting the tone for his domestic and foreign policies. According to Moon’s spokesman, Kim said in the letter to the South Korean president that he was sorry his previously planned trip to Seoul did not take place, expressing his “strong resolve” to make it happen while monitoring the situation.
Some residents of a recently completed Sydney high-rise apartment block were Tuesday spending their Christmas in makeshift camps, after they were evacuated by authorities when ‘cracking noises’ in the building were heard. Hundreds of people in the 38-storey Opal Tower in the Sydney Olympic Park and other nearby buildings were told to leave their homes on Monday after reports of ‘cracking noises’. Some two-thirds of the units were declared safe to return to Tuesday morning, but 51 others were declared ‘structurally unsafe’, New South Wales state police said. ‘Residents of these units have been escorted back to gather their belongings and have made their own arrangements for accommodation,’ police added in a statement. ‘Engineers and building managers remain on scene.’ No one was injured during the evacuation. The building moved ‘one to two millimetres’ during the incident and authorities said they found a crack on the 10th floor. But firefighters said they were confident of the building's integrity, apart from the affected units. ‘No, there is no risk that the building can collapse. It's just the local structure has been compromised,’ Superintendent Adam Dewberry of NSW Fire and Rescue told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ‘What will happen now is the strata manager will work with the local engineers to determine what needs to be done to actually make this building safe and let the full occupancy reoccur.’ Residents spoke of how their Christmas plans were thrown into turmoil, with some saying they had to sleep in their cars. Others said they were fearful of living in the block despite their apartment being assessed as safe. ‘I'm going to be moving, that's for sure. I don't want to spend a second in there that I don't have to. I don't want to die. I wouldn't feel safe sleeping there,’ 20th floor resident Chris Abram told commercial broadcaster Channel Nine. The 392-unit tower opened this year and is near the site of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Australia will introduce new surveillance technology for a ‘crackdown’ on drones next year, aviation authorities said Monday, as concerns mount over their increasing prevalence in public areas. Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) plans to roll out new monitoring equipment at major airports across the country next month. The technology has the ability to identify a drone, its serial number and the location of the controller while in flight, CASA communications manager Peter Gibson told AFP. ‘We can identify therefore who is flying it,’ he said. The technology, coupled with new registration requirements, will ‘dramatically’ change the way rules relating to drones are enforced, Gibson added. ‘2019 will be a drone safety crackdown,’ he said. While the new equipment has been in planning for some time, the incident last week at London's Gatwick airport -- which saw nearly 140,000 passengers affected by three days of disruption after reports of drone sightings -- ‘highlights the importance of having this capability’, Gibson said. Officials will also roll out a drone registration scheme in mid-2019, so that authorities can better track who is flying them and advise of proper safety precautions. The new mobile tracking technology will be used in ‘known drone hotspots’ like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which has seen a concerning rise of drones operating in a restricted area, Gibson said. Authorities will have greater powers to conduct safety checks, he said, and increased ability to issue fines of up to Aud$10,000 (USD$7,000) for those in breach of the rules. ‘In 2019 it could be very expensive doing the wrong thing with your drone,’ Gibson said.
The world’s only known albino orangutan has been released back into the jungle more than a year after she was found emaciated and bloody in a remote corner of Borneo, an Indonesian NGO said yesterday. Environmentalists rescued “Alba” from a cage where she was being kept as a pet by villagers in Central Kalimantan in April last year. She was found with dry blood smeared around her nose – the result of her violent capture – and weighed just 8kg, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) said. The blue-eyed primate, covered in fuzzy white hair, was on Wednesday returned to the wild with her best friend, Kika, after leaving their rehabilitation centre. “So far she’s showing good signs of adapting,” Nico Hermanu, a BOSF spokesman, told AFP. “She’s been climbing trees as high as 35m (about 115ft) and has been eating fruit from the forest.” Kika and Alba – who is six years old and now 28kg – will be monitored by conservation teams at Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park. The rescue is a rare spot of bright news for the critically endangered species, which has seen its habitat shrink drastically over the past few decades largely due to the destruction of forests for logging, paper, palm oil and mining. The population of orangutans in Borneo has plummeted from about 288,500 in 1973 to about 100,000 today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. A string of fatal attacks on the great apes this year have been blamed on farmers and hunters. Four Indonesian men were arrested over the killing of an orangutan shot some 130 times with an air rifle in February. Borneo police have also arrested two rubber plantation workers and accused them of shooting an orangutan multiple times before decapitating it. Plantation workers and villagers are sometimes known to attack the animal because they see it as a pest, while poachers also capture them to sell as pets.
The United States has agreed to help South Korea send flu medication to North Korea, a South Korean official said yesterday, after the United States said it would help deliver aid to the North despite stalled nuclear talks. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowed to work towards denuclearisation at a landmark summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June but the two sides have made little progress. North Korea raised new doubts about a nuclear agreement on Thursday when its state media said any deal on it giving up its nuclear arsenal had to include the complete elimination of US “nuclear threats”. While the United States and North Korea joust over a nuclear deal, South Korea is keen to improve ties with its old rival and has been taking steps to establish links in various areas including transport and humanitarian assistance. There has been some US concern that the South may be moving too quickly on building such links, given the scant progress on denuclearisation. Despite that, Stephen Biegun, the US special representative for North Korea, said on Wednesday as he arrived in South Korea for talks that he would be looking with aid groups at how to deliver “appropriate assistance” to the North, particularly in the winter. South Korea’s special representative for Korean peace and security affairs, Lee Do-hoon, said after talks with Biegun on Thursday the United States agreed to help supply the North with the flu drug Tamiflu. “The issue of providing Tamiflu to the North Korean people was resolved,” Lee told reporters. South Korea provided 500,000 doses of Tamiflu to the North in 2009 following an outbreak of H1N1 influenza. The Red Cross said in January this year that more than 81,000 North Koreans were affected by the same virus also known as swine flu. Humanitarian aid is not subject to tough sanctions on North Korea aimed at pressing it to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes. But officials at UN agencies and aid groups have told Reuters that their operations have nearly ground to a halt because of the strict interpretation of UN curbs on banking and shipping to North Korea, as well as a travel ban for US citizens. Lee said he had secured US sanctions exemptions over a plan to reconnect rail and road links, as well as the joint excavation of remains of soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War in the Demilitarised Zone, which is administered by the US-led United Nations Command. Biegun said while the United States had no intention of easing sanctions, such co-operation could help advance the nuclear diplomacy. “Of course, all of this is intended to advance what we’re trying to do with North Korea,” Biegun told reporters. “Now that work begins with denuclearisation but also includes the strong commitments by both of our countries to transform relations and build a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula,” he said. Trump has said a second summit with Kim was likely in January or February, though he wrote on Twitter last week that he was “in no hurry”. Biegun said the United States and North Korea had yet to agree on a date or venue for a second summit, but would work for an “agreeable outcome”. “We’re eager to move to the next stage of discussions with our North Korean partners,” he said.
New Zealand’s top court will hear Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom’s final appeal against extradition to the United States on fraud and online piracy charges, judges said. The German national, who is accused of netting millions from his file-sharing empire, faces charges of racketeering, fraud and money laundering in the US, carrying jail terms of up to 20 years. A panel of five Supreme Court judges unanimously rejected an argument from lawyers representing the United States that they did not have the power to hear appeals from Dotcom and his three co-accused. “We conclude that we have jurisdiction to entertain the proposed appeals,” they said in a written judgement. The Supreme Court is Dotcom’s last avenue of legal appeal in New Zealand and had the judges accepted the US argument, he would have been out of options. But the decision means he has one more chance to overturn a court ruling that he should be sent to the United States to face charges. The extradition order has already been upheld by two appeal courts in a marathon case that began when armed police raided Dotcom’s Auckland mansion in January 2012. No date has yet been set for the Supreme Court appeal hearing. The FBI-led case accuses Dotcom of industrial-scale online piracy via Megaupload, which US authorities shut down when the raid took place. They allege the file-sharing service netted more than US$175mn in criminal proceeds and cost copyright owners US$500mn-plus by offering pirated content, including films and music. Dotcom and his co-accused — Finn Batato, Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk — have denied any wrongdoing and say Megaupload was targeted because established interests were threatened by online innovation. The website was an early example of cloud computing, allowing users to upload large files onto a server so others could easily download them without clogging up their e-mail systems. At its height in 2011, Megaupload claimed to have 50mn daily users and account for four percent of the world’s Internet traffic.
Flagging in the polls and facing a rout in the May general election, Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison looked to shore up support yesterday, teasing AUS$9bn worth of tax cuts. “We support lower taxes,” said treasurer and deputy prime minister Josh Frydenberg, touting “important” tax decisions ahead. A mid-year budget released Monday showed the government running a smaller deficit than expected and possible surplus next year. That amounts to a much-needed AUS$9.25bn (US$6.7bn) election war chest for Morrison. His conservative coalition is 10 points back in the polls and facing a thumping loss to centre-left Labor, according to a recent Newspoll survey. Hoping for a little Christmas cheer to improve his sagging fortunes, Morrison looks almost certain to dole out the goodies to sceptical voters. The government did not spell out what the tax cuts could be, but they were budgeted for in the fine print of the plan under “decisions taken but not yet announced.” “This is tax cuts (or possibly spending measures) due to be announced between now and next year’s election,” said Andrew Hanlan, an economist with Westpac. Experts said the smaller deficit was thanks to higher tax revenues stemming from stronger growth and higher commodity prices. Australia’s economy has been growing steadily for decades, but has started to slow amid trade disputes between China and the United States and domestic pressures. An election date has not yet been set, but it is widely expected by May next year.
The trial of an Indonesian woman accused of assassinating the North Korean leader’s half-brother was put on hold yesterday due to a row over witness statements, the latest delay in the case. Siti Aisyah from Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam have been on trial for over a year, accused of murdering Kim Jong-nam by smearing nerve agent VX on his face at Kuala Lumpur airport. The brazen assassination in February last year shocked the world but the women have denied murder, saying they believed they were taking part in a prank and were tricked by North Korean agents. The women, in their 20s, went on trial together in October 2017 but proceedings have moved slowly due to the large numbers of witnesses and the fact hearings are held infrequently. The defence stage of Aisyah’s trial had originally been due to begin in November but was delayed to January after her main lawyer fell ill. And yesterday’s proceedings in Aisyah’s case were temporarily halted when the High Court refused to grant her lawyers access to some witness statements, and they decided to appeal. Huong’s trial is due to resume in March and the court will rule Friday whether it will go ahead, or be put on hold with Aisyah’s. The prosecution stage of the trial, during which the women appeared for hearings together, wrapped up in August. The defence parts of their trials will be held separately. Aisyah’s lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said the witness statements were “essential” for the defence and he would appeal the ruling — a process that could take months. “Without (the statements) there would be a real miscarriage of justice. It would compromise our case,” he told reporters at the court in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur. The seven statements are from witnesses including people who drove Kim Jong-nam around in Malaysia and acquaintances of Aisyah. Prosecutors have refused to hand them over, arguing they should not be made public. Under current laws, the women will be sentenced to death by hanging if convicted of murdering the estranged relative of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Malaysia’s new government, which took power in May, has vowed to abolish capital punishment for all crimes, although parliament still needs to vote on the change.